Parents hoping for a little Christmas help from Toys for Tots will have to register in advance in person, prove their income and provide two form of identification for each child, the program’s coordinator announced earlier this month, prompting some other nonprofit leaders to question the spirit of the program.
The preregistration is intended to make the distribution of the toys go more smoothly, said Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Stoudemeyer.
“One of the good problems we have is: the families will show up, everybody wants to be the first one in line, and you end up waiting in line for four or five hours. In order to prevent that, we’re actually going to issue time slots this year,” he said.
He also said the income and identification requirements are intended to ensure that only those who “deserve and need” help are getting it.
“We’re becoming significantly more strict on the qualification process this year, so the needy benefit, instead of the greedy,” said Stoudemeyer. “Ninety-nine percent of the people that show up are the ones that deserve and need the help. We’re just trying to prevent those that are kinda milking the system from getting over on us. We had some issues last year where individuals came and claimed to have twins and stuff like that, and they walked with probably 20-25 toys; and the next day, they were on the buy/sell/trade websites for Facebook. So we have identified those individuals and they’re on the do-not-participate-this-year list.”
Anyone in Dane or Jefferson County who wants to request a toy from Toys for Tots will have to go to the Salvation Army, 3030 Darbo Drive on Madison’s East Side, between October 30 and November 10, between 10 am and 2 pm weekdays or between 6 pm and 8 pm Thursdays. They must bring a filled out application in addition to the following:
- Government-issued photo ID
- Proof of current address (such as a utility bill)
- Proof of income (such as WIC documentation, check stubs, or last year’s tax return)
- Two forms of ID for each child (such as birth certificate, Social Security Card, photo ID, school enrollment forms, TIN forms or passport)
Most other Toys of Tots programs around the country require photo ID for parents and a birth certificate for each child.
Stoudemeyer said the program uses the same income standards as Wisconsin’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, meaning a household of four must prove annual income below $45,510. Stoudemeyer said the program has always had that limitation, but this year proof of income will be required for the first time.
Toys for Tots also requires families not to be registered for any other similar programs.
“We’re gonna do a lot better job this time checking to make sure you’re not double-tapping with Empty Stocking and then walking over,” he said. He said Toys for Tots will not share the identity of the families it serves with other agencies, and other agencies also told Madison365 they do not share the names of families they serve.
Stoubemeyer also said two forms of ID were required last year as well, but people brought them on the day of distribution beforehand. He said “a large number” provided the required documentation.
“We try not to turn anybody away, but we prefer that you go through the appropriate process,” he said.
Stoudemeyer thinks the requirements will not place an undue burden on poor families.
“I don’t think it’s difficult to have a birth certificate for your child,” Stoudemeyer said. “Do I think it’s difficult to have the school print out a form, saying that your child is attending the school? No, I don’t think that’s difficult. Do I think it’s difficult to get any other form with your child’s full name and date of birth on it? No, I do not believe that’s difficult. If the question you’re asking me, if I think getting those forms that should be commonly accessible is difficult? My answer to you is no, I don’t think that should be difficult.”
He also said he’s given ample time for people to plan to come to register.
“I think we’ve done the best that we could do in order to afford the opportunity for everybody to be there,” he said. “I am hoping we are not excluding anyone. I mean that could be a case by case basis but I think this is a solid plan, and enough hours, and enough timeframe, with enough heads up to gather these documents. Registration is October 30 and I posted this October 2.”
But nonprofit leaders who run similar programs find the new requirements onerous and potentially embarrassing.
“The Toys for Tots program has progressively gotten more and more inaccessible to people,” said substance abuse counselor and community leader Jacquelyn Hunt, who partners with a number of local agencies and businesses to provide gifts for the children of her agency’s clients. “If you’re homeless and all your papers is in a bag in somebody’s storage, you know what I’m saying? I’m just saying it could be a real hardship who really rely on the programs the most.”
“The whole ID thing for kids just kind of throws me,” said Linda Ketcham, executive director of Madison-Area Urban Ministry, which runs a gift program for its clients. “I just don’t get it. We don’t ask when someone signs up for any of our programs. You’re coming to us, you’re trusting us with your story to provide some assistance, and that’s all we need to know.”
She also sees an issue with requiring income verification.
“Let’s find one more way to stigmatize and demean someone,” she said. “Let’s make sure you’re really poor.”
“It sounds like they’re targeting a specific group of people who may or may not be able to provide that type of documentation for their kids,” Hunt said. “I think it’s just some doggone Christmas toys. Let the doggone babies be happy.”
“It just kind of feels like one more step toward more authoritarian and more punitive,” Ketcham said. “How is that representative of the spirit of that season? It seems like pretty sad commentary on where we are as a country, in terms of the discrepancy of who we say we are and who we really are.”
This article has been updated to correct the dates of the sign-up period, which ended November 10.